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Union Calls for Tesco to Clarify Cheese Labels

26 March 2009

UK - National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland is calling on the UK’s largest retailer, Tesco, to do its bit for fair and transparent labelling as the biggest selling value brand of cheese in the country fails to properly identify in which country that cheese has been produced.

A number of products can be found in supermarkets which simply comment on the label that the product has been packed or processed in the UK without volunteering information on which country it has come from. NFU Scotland believes that by clearly stating a product’s origin, retailers will benefit by stimulating consumer choice, and if that choice is Scottish or British, then farmers and the food industry will also benefit.

As a start to the process, the Union is calling for Tesco to clarify its labelling on cheese. This follows the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead’s recent meeting with the Foods Standards Agency (FSA) on Country of Origin labelling (COOL) of foodstuffs.

NFU Scotland’s Vice-President Allan Bowie said:

“The Cabinet Secretary’s recent statement that some current labelling fails to deliver the clarity of information that the consumer deserves is welcome and the label found on Tesco’s value cheese line is an example of such a failure. Tesco’s value cheddar is probably the largest selling value brand of cheese in the UK yet those who buy this cheese, week in week out, will have no idea which country the cheese has come from and reading the label will leave them none the wiser.

“Current labelling laws allow any retailer to import cheese into the UK, cut it into smaller blocks for its shop shelves and, in very small print, inform consumers that the cheese has been packed in the UK. Clearly of concern to our dairy farmers is the fact that ‘Packed in the UK’ does not necessarily mean ‘Produced in the UK’ but millions of supermarket customers could easily believe that all this cheese is made from British milk.

“The same confusion can apply to a range of other products found in most supermarkets where use of the terms packed or processed in the UK fails to clearly inform the customer where the key ingredients have come from.

“There is a proportion of consumers, particularly in these difficult economic times, who will always buy on price and value range products are important to their shopping budget. However, there is also a proportion of consumers who would buy a value brand of cheese believing that they were buying British cheddar when that may not be the case. Until retailers embrace COOL on all products, they will never know.

“Tesco are perfectly entitled to source cheese from outside the UK and, through its open tender, they are known to import some cheddar. We are not challenging their right to import cheese, although greater support for cheese made with British milk would always be welcome. What we are supporting is the rights of consumers to know where all the products that they are buying have come from, so that they can make their buying choice based on all the information available. Retailers have nothing to fear from making this information clear, as it will stimulate consumer choice.

“The good news on cheese is that cheddar sales are going from strength to strength. Last year, the British public bought more than 205,000 tonnes of cheddar, up two percent on the year. Under current labelling practices, those consumers who want to continue to support British dairy farmers and UK cheese makers would do well to buy those cheese brands and ranges where the provenance of the cheese is clearly marked. Until retailers commit to COOL, they would do well to steer clear of those bearing a ‘packed in the UK’ tag.”

TheCattleSite News Desk


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